Up in the sky!
It’s a rabbi!
It’s a historian!
It’s a tour guide!
No, it’s all three…because it’s…Rabbi Ken Spiro!
There are historians who are tour guides and probably tour guides who are rabbis, but Rabbi Ken Spiro may be the only person on the planet who is licensed, ordained, and legit in all three areas.
“I see being a tour guide as complementary to my work as a teaching rabbi, author, and historian,” says Spiro, who’s a senior lecturer at Aish HaTorah Jerusalem, a short uphill walk from the Western Wall.
“It gets me outdoors and connects me with the places I write and teach about. It all works together.”
Spiro has toured through Jerusalem, among others, Tom Ridge, head of Homeland Security; then-New Jersey Governor Christy Todd Whitman; then-Texas governor and current Secretary of Energy Rick Perry; and former military governor of Iraq Paul Brenner.
As probably the world’s only triple hyphenate rabbi-tour guide-historian, he’s appeared on BBC, National Geographic Channel, The History Channel, Channel 4 England and Arutz Sheva-Israel National Radio, explaining how holy sites in Israel connect with the Bible and modern Middle-Eastern history.
How versed is Spiro in his subject?
His Crash Course in Jewish History, which reaches back to Abraham and forward to the Holocaust and the founding of the State of Israel, weighs in at a mere 507 pages and remains an Amazon best seller seven years after its publication.
A favorite of Christian groups as well as Jewish tourists, Spiro offers visitors background on the sites they don’t get from a typical guide.
“I hear what the other guides are saying,” Spiro laughs. “A lot of the time, it’s, ‘This is the Western Wall. It’s very holy. Okay, back in the bus.’
“We’re looking at thousands of years of history here. Maybe they should make being a historian mandatory for people who want to be guides.”
He adds, “Because I am both a rabbi and an historian, I love to weave the Biblical narrative together with history and archaeology. My in-depth knowledge of Jewish history allows me to guide and present information in greater depth and detail than many guides.
The American-born Spiro did his undergraduate work at Vassar College, studied at the Pushkin Institute in Moscow, and received his M.A. from the Vermont College of Norwich University.
A 35-year resident of Jerusalem, Spiro is licensed as a tour guide throughout the State of Israel and specializes in the Old City and the City of David.
Spiro also probably has the highest rate of words-per-minute for a tour guide, rapidly interspersing archeological, historical, and Biblical background with political commentary, quotes from historical figures about the unlikelihood of Jewish survival, and Borscht Belt jokes.
“If it isn’t funny, people won’t stay awake,” Spiro reasons. “Who says sightseeing has to be boring?”
He’s also probably the only tour guide who prints his own t-shirts.
“I figured nobody would take me seriously if I don’t have my own clothing line,” he laughs.
“Clothing line” is a rare exaggeration for the fact-based Spiro; the entire line consists of one black t-shirt emblazoned with a long list of nations that sought to wipe out the Jewish people and no longer exist, from the ancient Greeks, Assyrians, and Romans to the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.
“We’ve stuck around for thousands of years because we have a Friend in high places,” Spiro laughs. “So be nice!”